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By Tim Green
Read by Scott Brick
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- Audiobook Download (Abridged)
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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around April 25, 2007. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
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Initially galvanized by a career-making story, Jake—and his son—are soon the victims of brutal violence and the targets of Jake’s fellow reporters, who dog them for their story. Concerned for the survival of his family, Jake realizes some sins of the past should never be uncovered…
ALSO BY TIM GREEN
The Red Zone
The Letter of the Law
The Fourth Perimeter
The Fifth Angel
The First 48
The Dark Side of the Game
A Man and His Mother: An Adopted Son's Search
For Illyssa, because
meeting you was the best thing
that ever happened to me.
With each book I write, there are many people who help with essential steps along the way, and I would like to thank them.
Esther Newberg, the world's greatest agent and my dear friend, for her wisdom. Ace Atkins, my dependable, brilliant, and talented friend, for his careful reading and fantastic ideas. Jamie Raab, my publisher, and Jaime Levine, my editor, who polished this story with unmatched insight and creativity. As well as all my friends at Hachette Book Group, beginning with our leader, David Young, Maureen Egen, Chris Barba and the best sales team in the world, Emi Battaglia, Karen Torres, Jennifer Romanello, Flamur Tonuzi, Martha Otis, Jim Spivey, and Mari Okuda.
My parents, Dick and Judy Green, who taught me to read and to love books and who spent many hours scouring this manuscript so that it shines.
A special thanks to former FBI agent John Gamel, who helped me navigate the inner workings of the FBI and kindly took my calls at all hours of the day. Deputy Chief Michael Kerwin, the good cop who's been with me from the beginning. Kevin Harrigan and Marc Harrold for their insights into international adoption. Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick for his friendship and guidance. Jim Costello, who appears in the book as himself, for his insight into mortuary science. And Christine Hagan, my friend from A Current Affair, who also appears as herself and is the most brilliant First Amendment attorney I know.
I'd also like to thank Peter Brennan and the entire staff at A Current Affair, who welcomed me into the world of tabloid TV with a warmth that I learned is the exception rather than the rule.
SAM'S HEAD WAS BACK against the wall, his eyes painfully closed, wearing the look of a refugee. Crusted blood caked the edges of his nostrils and sloppy crimson smears marked the trail that must have run down either side of his mouth and off the chin. His white Yankees T-shirt, oversized to hide a stomach that spilled over his belt, was stained and rumpled.
Jake's jaw tightened and he drew deep breaths of air through his nose. He flung open the door and Sam looked at him, blinking back fresh, seventh-grade tears. The principal, Ms. Dean, burst out of her office, shooting her glare at Jake, then at Sam, then back to Jake. Ms. Dean wore a frumpy blue dress. She had a small, grandmother's face, with curly white hair and petite round glasses, what you might expect on a can of baked beans. She tapped the backs of her fingers against the open door of a conference room and said, "In here, please."
Jake put a hand on Sam's husky shoulder, giving it a squeeze before he followed the principal's orders. She snapped her fingers at Sam. Jake cleared his throat, felt his cheeks go warm, and sat down at the far end of the table after folding his raincoat and laying it over the back of the chair to drip. Ms. Dean pointed to a chair and Sam sat down at the opposite end of the table. The principal put a piece of paper in front of Jake, handing him a pen.
"An order of suspension," she said. "This is three. The next one and he'll be expelled, Mr. Carlson. We can't have this fighting."
"Ms. Dean," Jake said, offering her the same smile that he used to open the hearts of total strangers.
"No, Mr. Carlson," she said, showing him her trembling palm. "I know it's been hard for Sam, losing a parent. But this school is supposed to be a safe zone for my students."
"Are you sure about what happened?"
Ms. Dean frowned, the little crescent wrinkles at the corners of her mouth rippling outward and down toward the tuft of fuzz on her chin.
"He bit them," she said.
Jake flashed a look at Sam, who only hung his head.
"I saw the teeth marks," she said. "And there's blood on his braces."
Sam tightened his lips and winced.
Jake scrawled his signature below the principal's.
"Come on, Sam," Jake said. He got up and grabbed his coat, walking past his son and letting himself out into the office.
"I think he should see Dr. Stoddard," the principal said, raising her voice. "Obviously, whatever you're doing privately isn't working."
Sam followed close behind, filling the entryway with his large presence. Jake wasn't a big man, but at just thirteen, Sam was nearly as tall and weighed about the same. It wasn't unusual for people to overestimate his age by three or four years.
Outside, Jake held the umbrella for Sam, giving him all the protection it could offer against the teeming late spring rain. He saw Sam into the passenger side, slamming the door before collapsing the umbrella and tossing it into the trunk. He climbed into the seat of his BMW coupe and wiped away the courses of water running down his face.
"You bit them? Are you kidding me?"
Sam slumped further into the seat and deepened his scowl. He folded his thick arms across his chest and angled his head away so that Jake could see nothing of his features except the ends of those long dark lashes and the tip of his pug nose. Jake slapped the steering wheel, whipping droplets of rain from the stringy ends of his hair across the burl-wood dashboard. He cursed, slammed the car into gear, and raced off into the downpour toward home. The wipers pounded out their beat, fighting off the hissing buckets of rain as they crossed the bridge to Atlantic Beach.
"My father would have kicked my ass," Jake said. "Is that what you want? Is that what this is about? I'm too easy on you? I'm your buddy and you want some goddamn assurances that I'm in charge?"
Jake pulled up short at a light, stomping on the brake so that Sam bumped his head against the dash.
"Where's your goddamned seat belt?" Jake said. "Can you follow at least one rule?"
Jake just stared at Sam until he popped open the door and ran out into the rain.
All Jake could do was watch as he ran across the parking lot, a husky, hunched-over shape in tennis shoes, whose bear-gait sent him into the misty gray rain coming in off the ocean until it swallowed him completely.
"I don't belong," Sam said, his face contorting as if someone had pinched his skin, then let go.
"I'm sorry, Sam," Jake said. He knelt down and touched Sam's shoulder.
Jake hadn't bothered with the umbrella when he went after him. His suit clung tight to his body and dark blue dye stained the backs of his hands. Sam sat balled up underneath the boardwalk with his head in his knees, trembling. Heavy drops from the boardwalk above plunked into the lake of water surrounding them and the rain hissed as it struck the dunes beyond.
"They say you're not my dad," Sam said, his head back in his knees, his shoulders shuddering. "Everyone sees you on TV and they say you're not my dad. I tell them to shut up, but I don't look like you, and if someone hits you, you always said to hit them back."
"Sure," Jake said, moving his hand from Sam's shoulder to his dripping head, "but you don't bite people, Son. You just don't."
Sam's head jerked up and his big dark eyes had that red cast.
"There was three of them. Mike Petroccelli was choking me from behind and I put my head down. I didn't bite him. He was pulling my head off and my braces cut his arm. There was three of them. I didn't bite. I swear to God."
"Is that what all these fights are about?" Jake asked. "You being adopted?"
Sam nodded his head and dropped it between his knees. When he spoke, his words were muffled. "I want you to find my mom."
Jake lost the feeling in his arms and legs and his head felt light.
"Your mom's gone, Sam," Jake heard himself say.
"No," Sam said, his voice barely audible above the shattering rain on the boardwalk above, "not Mom, my real mom. I want you to find her."
Jake felt his lunch pushing up into his throat and he swallowed it back down.
"The records are gone. That was part of how we got you. We wanted you so badly, your mom and I. You have to know how bad we wanted you, Sam."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, someone out there knows. There are things on the Internet about everyone."
Jake shook his head. "You're talking about finding a person. You don't just go Yahoo! it."
He studied Sam for a moment then looked at his watch. "I know you don't want to hear this, but I've got to get you home and get to the city. I got the nanny Angelina Jolie just fired."
Sam rolled his eyes.
"I know," Jake said. "Who gives a shit, right? But we get to live in a house on the beach and eat Häagen-Dazs by the gallon."
"You find everyone else," Sam said, looking up at him, his eyes looking into Jake's. "That's what you do. You find people. They talk to you. That's your job. I want you to do that for me. I want to find her."
Before the crap he was doing now, Jake had spent time in the streets of Kabul and Baghdad. He'd seen the mobs, the fighting, smelled the gunpowder, the burnt and rotting flesh. That didn't scare him the way this did because this wasn't someone else's problem that Jake was there to give an account of. This was his problem, and he knew it was a problem. His instincts, the same ones that had launched his career as a journalist, had told him back then when they got Sam that something was wrong. It wasn't anything on the surface, all the documents were there. The lawyers had signed off. There were assurances.
But Karen had gone through the first of many operations back then, and she was desperate for a baby, desperate because she knew that no matter how it turned out she could no longer have children of her own. And back then, when they were praying that maybe she'd been cured, Jake wanted to give her that baby more than he'd ever wanted anything. To make her a mother. To make her life complete. And as hungry as Jake was for his own success, it paled next to the yearning he felt for Karen to have what she wanted and for her to be happy.
So, he had pushed it.
Jake realized Sam was still looking into his eyes and it made him start. Sam was a boy whose eyes usually shifted, his head tilting down, and his face disappearing beneath that dark thatch of unruly hair. This time, though, Sam held his gaze. And maybe it was because Jake had seen that same desperate look in the faces of so many strangers that, despite the fact he was scared, he said yes.
"Okay, Sam," he said. "I'll find her. I'll try."
JAKE CINCHED UP HIS TIE and went to sit down in the barber chair nearest the door.
"Oh, I'm sorry, Jake," the makeup girl said, covering her mouth. "That's Nancy's new chair. Can you use this one over here?"
Jake looked from the girl to the other chair. Nancy Riordin was the host of American Outrage. Jake had been hired as the show's number two.
"Nancy's not here, is she?" he asked.
The girl shook her head, but patted the other chair and smiled at him through the mirror that ran along the entire wall, round bulbs above and below.
Jake started to say that he'd seen Sara Pratt, another reporter, in Nancy's chair the previous Tuesday, but bit his lip instead and sat down.
While he had the makeup applied and his hair sprayed down, Jake ran his eyes over his script and wondered if he really was the top correspondent anymore. He'd been hired as that, promised that, but things had subtly changed during the past year and a half since Karen had taken a turn for the worse. The candy dish he kept on his desk didn't get mysteriously filled anymore, and when he left his shoes on the floor of his dressing room, they were no longer guaranteed to be shined by the next day. Twice in the last month he'd had to pick up his own dry cleaning.
The stage manager poked his head into the room and said, "Two minutes. We've got the nanny on the set with her mother."
"Her mother?" Jake said, squinting at the stage manager in the mirror.
The stage manager shrugged and disappeared. Jake took out his cell phone and dialed his friend Meghan Lisson, a reporter from NPR who had met the nanny over in Africa.
"Jake, Jake, Jake," she said when she answered the call, "flowers are fine. Roses. No candy. Happy to help, but how the hell does a guy like you go from pirates in the Gulf of Oman to Angelina's nanny?"
"What's up with the mother?" Jake asked, flexing back his lips and checking the perfect white teeth in the mirror for food.
"You know she's booked tomorrow on GMA, The View, and Larry King Live?" Meghan asked. "Did you know American Outrage is the only evening magazine with an interview?"
"Why is the mother here?" Jake asked. "Who is she?"
"I speak French, so it didn't even cross my mind," Meghan said with a laugh, "but the girl doesn't speak English. Her mother is probably there to interpret."
"Is she interpreting on GMA?" Jake asked.
"You don't think Diane Sawyer speaks French?"
"The audience doesn't. Christ."
"Settle down, it's been done before. Everyone else will be doing it too. Maybe subtitles. Gotta go. Do pink roses, will you? The red ones smell."
Jake hung up. The makeup girl brushed out his eyebrows and whipped off the cape.
"You want me to run a quick iron over that suit?" the makeup girl asked.
"It's a three-thousand-dollar suit," Jake said, looking down and brushing the sleeve.
"It's pretty wrinkled."
"Yeah, I'm okay. The stripes will hide it, but thanks."
He got up and the show's lawyer, Christine Hagan, appeared waving a copy of the script.
"You can't say 'when Angelina hit you,'" she said, her face turning colors. "We'll get sued and lose. We don't know if she hit this girl. She could be some crackpot milking this thing. You have to say 'allegedly.' Every time you talk about her being hit, you have to say that."
"Got it," Jake said.
"You got it, but it was in the script. You say she hit her and I'll bury the whole piece. I'm not letting us get sued by Angelina Jolie."
Christine kept after him all the way down the hall and Jake just smiled and nodded.
He walked into the studio with an audio man fixing the microphone to his lapel and clipping the transmitter to the back of his belt. He stepped up onto the set and gave the girl his best smile.
"Antoinette," he said, holding out both hands. "No, don't get up."
He bent down and kissed her good cheek, scanning the other side of her face for the red finger marks where she'd allegedly been slapped by the movie star for her impertinence, wherein lay the tragedy. He then looked at the mother, who quickly spoke to the girl in French. The girl blushed and looked down, saying something.
"What'd she say?" Jake asked the mother. She was an attractive woman, well built like her daughter but with blond hair that had faded and wrinkles around her eyes from too much sun.
"She says she thought Brad Pitt was the most handsome man in America, but maybe not now."
"Thank you," Jake said. He looked at the girl and gave half a bow. "Merci."
"Oh?" The girl perked up. "Monsieur, parlez-vous français?"
"No," Jake said, looking from mother to daughter, "I don't. No French."
"Mr. Carlson," the mother said in a low tone, leaning forward in her chair, "I know you pay my daughter's fee, but you misunderstood that I also have a fee."
Jake took half a step back and placed his hand on his chest and asked, "Did you get Antoinette's check?"
"Yes," the mother said, taking it out of her purse and holding it up.
"Fifty thousand dollars," Jake said, tilting his head toward the check.
"Yes," the mother said. "But fifty thousand each."
Jake's mouth fell, and before he could respond Joe Katz, the show's executive producer, burst into the studio waving his hands. Jake signaled him to calm down and Katz checked himself. He took a deep breath and cleared his throat before calmly explaining to the mother that they weren't even getting a twenty-four-hour exclusive and that they just couldn't pay more than fifty.
The lawyer for the girl's family slipped into the mix with his back up and began to argue with Katz. The volume of their voices steadily grew. Somehow, Jake ended up with the check in his hands and the girl ran off the set crying. The lawyer and the mother stormed out after her, yelling that they'd sue for breach of contract.
"Great," Katz said, frowning at Jake. "I thought you had this nailed down."
"Yesterday you said I was the only reporter in America good enough to outdo the networks," Jake said, tugging the corners of his mouth into a false smile. "Now they pull a bait-and-switch and that's on me?"
"Don't be so goddamn smug, will you?" Katz said. "We ran promos all day promising the nanny."
"You think our audience will forgive us?" Jake said. "I mean, now they'll never know if Billy Bob Thornton's influence is still lingering, if that's what pushed Angelina to slap this girl, or if someone just forgot to change a diaper."
"Funny," Katz said, turning to go, "but when the suits out in LA ask, this one's on you."
Jake waited until he was alone, then kicked a chair and went back to the makeup room. He threw himself down in Nancy's chair and snatched a handful of baby wipes to remove his makeup. The makeup girl peeked in, but saw the expression on his face in the mirror and quickly disappeared. Jake scowled at himself, the tightness in his chiseled jawline and the dark brooding in his glass-blue eyes, and ran a hand through his dirty-blond hair to break up the spray. He went to his dressing room and tore off his suit, replacing it with jeans and a T-shirt that clung to his muscular frame, before he too stormed out of the building.
On the drive out to Atlantic Beach, Jake dialed up his agent in LA and related the story. She knew about it already because another client of hers was the executive producer of Entertainment Tonight and they'd snapped up the girl and the mother before Jake had his makeup off.
"Do you know I was actually thinking today that no one fills my candy dish?" Jake said. "How sad is that?"
"I'm sure you're sick over it," she said.
"You know what I'm sick over?" he asked.
"Mary Hart's smart-ass grin?"
"No," Jake said, holding the phone away from his face, looking at it. "I'm sick of me."
THE NEXT MORNING, Jake huffed and wiped the sweat from his face, churning up through the beach grass. He was just forty, but fit enough to have run a marathon two summers ago even though he still had the thick muscular frame from wrestling in college. The sun wasn't up yet and the fog was thick, but his white contemporary home rose up like some futuristic temple, a cluster of giant rectangular boxes standing on end, rigid and riddled with glass cubes, nearly glowing in the thin dawn light while its neighboring shake-shingled beach houses still hid in the gloom. A single orange rectangular glow came from the window in the master bathroom and that's where Jake headed.
He climbed the split-level stairs and stopped outside Sam's room, the bed unmade, and wondered if some of his own decisions as a parent had precipitated Sam's slide.
No one except Juliet, their housekeeper, knew that Sam slept with Jake on the far side of his king bed, with Louie at their feet. Jake told Sam that if he ever told his therapist that the party would be over. All the books said not to do it, but it had started when Karen went to the hospital for the last time. Sam would come into Jake's bed in the middle of the night, sobbing and trembling. A week or so after the funeral, Sam just made it his own space. Louie came later, which Jake didn't like, but tolerated, so that when he traveled, Sam wouldn't be alone. And after a while he got used to the big warm presence at his feet.
He climbed the next set of stairs and walked into the master bedroom with its sixteen-foot-high slanted ceiling and sliding glass doors that opened onto a wide balcony. The radio on the alarm clock was playing Beethoven's Ninth, but not loud enough to drown out the sound of the surf that came in through the open doors. Sam was still out cold with his mouth hanging open and a wet spot on the pillow. Louie raised his head, blinked, and thumped his tail three times on the bed.
"Come on, Sam," Jake said, tugging on a thick big toe. "Alarm went off fifteen minutes ago."
Sam sat up, his straight dark hair going in every direction, his bulk lost in a triple-X Jets T-shirt. He yawned and looked blankly at Jake.
"Come on, goddamn it," Jake said.
"You swear a lot," Sam said, rubbing his eyes.
"Every morning I tell you, if you're going to listen to the radio during the day, turn up the volume for the alarm at night," Jake said.
"You think I was listening to that?"
"Well, get dressed," Jake said, peeling off his sweaty shirt and stepping into the bathroom. "We've got Dr. Stoddard."
"Dr. Stoddard's an asshole," Sam said from the bed.
Jake stuck his head back out into the bedroom. "Hey, don't get suspended for fighting and you won't have to see the school shrink. Turn that off and get ready."
When Jake got out of the shower, Sam was nowhere to be seen. He went to the doorway and shouted down the stairs. "Hey, you making eggs?"
Sam shouted back that he would if Jake wanted them.
"Scrambled, okay?" Jake yelled.
He walked over to the dresser, where his cell phone rested amid Karen's hand cream bottles and the stack of books she'd been planning to read. Their covers seemed faded under the blanket of dust. The professional advice Jake got was to put them away, that it was time, but Jake couldn't do that. He was afraid even to touch them and he'd instructed Juliet that the top of the dresser was off-limits. The cell phone's red light blinked at him. Messages. Three of them.
Jake wrapped the towel around his waist and put the phone to his ear. The first message was from one of the show's field producers, Conrad Muldoon. Frantic. The wife of a murdered FBI agent was finally going to talk. The agent had been investigating a senator's connection to an Indonesian child pornography ring. Jake, Muldoon, and several of the show's other producers had been orbiting the woman for months, sending notes, flowers, e-mails, angling for an interview.
The FBI was telling the woman to keep quiet, even though their investigation had stalled. That same agency had yet to track down a mysterious black Mustang seen by several witnesses racing away from the scene. That bizarre inconsistency had finally hit home with the wife. Muldoon had a crew set to shoot at nine a.m. at the woman's home in Brooklyn.
The second message was from an elated Joe Katz, telling Jake congratulations, he had heard the news, and that an interview like this was just the kind of thing he needed to call off the wolves. The third message was from Muldoon asking where the hell he was.
Jake called the producer while he dressed, explaining that he'd be a little late, but would do his best.
"You're kidding," Muldoon said.
"Relax," Jake said, "these people are mine. They'll wait."
"I'm the one that got the call from the mother," Muldoon said.
"Conrad, first of all, Katz assigned this story to me," Jake said. "Second, the only reason the mother talked to us in the first place was because she used to hear me on NPR. I'll get there when I get there."
THE SCHOOL PSYCHOLOGIST had a full, salty beard and long greasy hair that he wore tied into a ponytail with a red rubber band. The elbows of his corduroy blazer were patched with worn leather and it was missing the same leather button that had been missing since the first time Jake met the man two years ago.
"Sam and I need to be alone," he said.
Jake shifted in the wooden chair outside Stoddard's office. It was library quiet. The hallway of the administration building smelled like old carpet and floor wax. Every so often, someone would walk past and mount the creaky stairs to the second floor. Once a door across the hall opened and a heavy woman with pink cheeks and curly hair peeked out before closing it. Jake looked at his watch and the cell phone rang again.
"I'm doing my best to keep her," Muldoon said. "What's it look like, buddy?"
"Not long," Jake said. "Thanks, Conrad."
"No promises," Muldoon said pleasantly, "but I'm doing everything I can."
Fifteen minutes later, the knob on Stoddard's office door rattled and turned. Sam came out hanging his head.
"Well," Stoddard said, clasping his hands, "we've had a good beginning. Why don't you step back inside for a second, Mr. Carlson?"
Jake looked at his watch and forced a smile. The psychologist offered up a small nod. Jake went in and shut the door, draping an arm over Sam's shoulder. Stoddard slipped behind his desk and sat down, but Jake stayed on his feet.
"One of the things I think Sam now understands, Mr. Carlson," Stoddard said, "is that who we are is nothing more than a series of choices. Sam told me he wants to find what he calls his real mother and that you've agreed to help him."
Jake just stared.
Stoddard shook his head and said, "A disaster. Sam has to understand that he was born, and given away. His real mother is not a life-detail because she never impacted a choice. Now, this imagined figure may be one of the excuses Sam likes to attribute to his own poor choices, but we cannot allow this. Not if he's going to get well."
Jake bit the inside of his lip and nodded. It was enough for Stoddard, who then said he'd see Sam every morning of his week-long suspension at eight-thirty, and once a week after that.
"I think I can help," he said solemnly.
Jake kept his arm around Sam all the way across the wet parking lot. The sun was a yellow splotch now, burning away at the mist. When they were in the car, Sam turned to him with wet eyes and a protruding lower lip.
"Dad, you promised you'd—"
Jake held up his hand as he started the car and backed out.
"I don't care what that guy says," Jake said.
"I told you I'd try to find her."
Sam sat back in his seat and let out a big breath, shaking his head.
- "Bestseller Green introduces a tough, appealing hero in his action-packed 12th thriller....Green's tale is ripe with irony and full of barbs."—Publishers Weekly
- "An adopted child's need to know his birth mother puts his father on the trail of treachery and deception practiced by Albanian Mafiosi and a powerful political family."—Kirkus
- "Genre veteran Green hits his stride here, with his best novel since his early football thrillers."—Booklist
- "Green keeps the suspense building and the reader continually off guard."—Chicago Tribune
- "Tim Green is a master."—Nelson DeMille
- On Sale
- Apr 25, 2007
- Hachette Audio